(OnFocus) What started as an idea to sell handmade cat toys has gone on to raise thousands of dollars for pet shelters across Wisconsin.
Tammy Marone of Kronenwetter has been donating her crocheted creations for the past 12 years and is up to 37,200 toys and counting. A lifelong animal lover, Marone started making the toys after spotting a picture of a crocheted fish, which she decided to replicate and sell to raise funds for the Humane Society of Marathon County.
“I made a bunch of fish and thought they turn out kind of cute,” she said. “My mom and I sat at one of the craft shows and sold them.”
At the craft show, they could sell 150 cat toys in just four hours. Soon they were also shipping toys off to Lincoln County Humane Society in Merrill, where her mother Darlene Madden was born, and to pet shelters in Hayward and Janesville, where Marone adopted her beloved dogs.
Buyers were asked for a minimum $1 donation toward the cause, and sometimes they would donate extra. “I think people appreciated the fact they were homemade and we took the time, and that they were quality made,” she said. “They didn’t just look thrown together.”
Today, Marone supports 13 shelters and makes 10 different patterns, selling them at the shelters, four vet offices in Marathon County, a pet supply store in Wausau, and a craft supply store in Tomahawk.
Besides fish, the selection includes mice, strawberries, and the popular bumblebees, creations with curly tails and tinkling bells, and others that resemble octopuses or tootsie rolls — all meant to be batted around and chewed apart.
“This is just my way of trying to do something to help,” said Marone, who buys all of the materials and pays for shipping. “I don’t have a lot of spare time, but I always wanted to help in any way I could.”
Over the years, she’s been assisted by a friend and her mother-in-law, Caryl, who still helps crochet the toys at age 87.
Each toy is Marone’s own design and she can make one in about 12 minutes, shipping off 100 on average every 2-3 weeks. A recent box went to Marshfield Area Pet Shelter, which requested more “strawberries” after a pet owner shared a picture of her cat’s well-loved toy and asked where she could get more. They are available at the MAPS Adoption Center inside the Marshfield Mall.
While the toys have been a “labor of love” over the years, to Marone it’s the shelters who are the real heroes.
“They’re dealing with animal abuse and neglect cases all the time,” she said. “They’re shedding tears. Sometimes they have happy tears because they’ve got an animal that was there for over a year and it got adopted…but there are a lot of hardships there.”
Having served on the humane society board in Marathon County in the ‘80s, she remembers the ups and downs of shelter life and was present when the board decided to remove the decompression chamber, a major decision at the time. With each shipment of toys, she thanks the staff and volunteers for their efforts.
Though close to 40,000 toys, Marone said she has no plans to stop crocheting anytime soon and will continue to donate her creations to Wisconsin pet shelters, knowing each toy sold and dollar raised makes a difference.